Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Music History

Music History Monday: A Marriage of Convenience

On April 22, 1723 – 296 years ago today – the 38-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach was elected music director and cantor of St. Thomas church in Leipzig. Despite the fact that it was a prestigious position, Bach felt scant enthusiasm for the job and considered it a step down from his previous position. Bach’s reticence was shared by the Leipzig authorities’ reticence towards Bach, who was – in fact – their fourth choice for the job. Bach and Leipzig were “a marriage of convenience” and therein lies the story for this week’s Music History Monday. Sebastian Bach (as he was known to his friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances) was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia, in what today is central Germany. He was the eighth and last child (of five surviving children) born to Elisabeth and Johann Ambrosius Bach.  To say that Sebastian Bach had a genetic predisposition towards music is like saying that giraffes are genetically predisposed to necking. For generations, music had been the Bach family trade. In 1735, the 50-year-old Sebastian Bach compiled a list of forty-two family members who had been professional musicians during the previous 150 years. It was a “short list”, as […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Movers and Shakers

Today we celebrate the birth – on February 20, 1749 – of the violinist, composer, and impresario Johann Peter Salomon. His name is relatively unknown today, yet without him the musical legacy of the late eighteenth century would be much the poorer. Let us contemplate, for a moment, the massive, gleaming 6.5-liter engine that powers the Lamborghini Aventado SV (superveloce, meaning “super velocity), a V-12 monster that generates 740 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque; the beating heart of a $500,000 sports car. Be still our hearts. Now imagine next to it a mundane case of motor oil, $36.99 at Costco. Nothing sexy there. Except for the fact that without the oil – the engine’s life-blood – that Lamborghini V12 cannot function. So it is with most things in our world. We are aware of the glitzy surfaces of things, people, and organization but rarely think twice about the life-blood that allows them to tick. A symphony orchestra or an opera company? Without the union steward and back stage crew nothing happens. A Federal District Court or even SCOTUS? Without their law clerks they couldn’t function for a day. Yes: from the guy who inflates (or doesn’t inflate) Tom Brady’s […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: The Best Gig in the World!

We wish a spirited and in all ways happy birthday to the composer and flutist Johann Joachim (J. J.) Quantz, who was born in Oberscheden, Hanover (in what today is central Germany) on January 30, 1697, 320 years ago today. (“You say flutist, and I say flautist …” Actually, I say “flutist” because that’s how North Americans denote someone who plays the flute. In English speaking countries outside of North America, the word “flautist” rules. “Flutist” is by far the older term; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it entered the English language in 1603 having been drawn from the French word flûtiste. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that the hoity-toits over the pond began using the word flautist, which was drawn from the Italian flautist. And there’s your TMI moment for today!) You want to talk about breaking a father’s heart? On his deathbed, J.J. Quantz’ blacksmith father begged his 10 year-old son to follow him in the family trade. It didn’t happen, as J.J.’s extraordinary promise as a musician was already apparent. Quantz was one of those irksome people who could play (and play well) any instrument he picked up, among them the violin, trumpet, and harpsichord. […]

Continue Reading

Music History Mondays: Mozart – A Diagnosis

December 5 is an important date in music history. On December 5, 1830 (which was a Sunday) Hector Berlioz’ ground-breaking Symphonie Fantastique received its premiere at a concert that began at 2 P.M. at the Paris Conservatoire, then located on the Rue Bergère – what today is called the Rue de Conservatoire – in the 9th arrondissement. Tuesday, December 5, 1865 saw the public premiere of Johannes Brahms’ crazy-awesome Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 40, in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe, with the 32 year-old Brahms at the piano. The Barry Tuckwell, Itzhak Perlman, and Vladimir Ashkenazy recording on London affords more pleasure than any of us have a right to experience. Acquire it. Now. It gets no better. But these and other events pale to insignificance next to what happened on Monday, December 5, 1791 in Vienna. It was then and there – at 55 minutes past midnight – that Wolfgang Mozart died in the music room of his first story (what we in the U.S.A. call the second story) flat, located in a house called “das kleine Kaiserhaus” (“the small imperial house’) at Rauhensteingasse 8 in central Vienna. Mozart was 35 years, […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday Blogs for San Francisco Performances

In my capacity as Music-Historian-in-Residence for San Francisco Performances (SFP), I will be writing a weekly blog called “Music History Monday” for the SFP Facebook page. Being a firm believer in doing double-duty, I will be posting these blogs on my page as well, though I would encourage to visit (and follow!) the SFP Facebook page as well. Welcome to what will become a weekly feature on both my own and the San Francisco Performances Facebook pages, “Music History Monday.” (As titles go that’s about as thrilling as root canal, but it is an accurate description of the feature’s content so run with it we will.) Every Monday I will dredge up some timely, perhaps intriguing and even, if we are lucky, salacious chunk of musical information relevant to that date, or to San Francisco Performances’ concert schedule, or to … whatever. If on (rare) occasion these features appear a tad irreverent, well, that’s okay: we would do well to remember that cultural icons do not create and make music but rather, people do, and people can do and say the darndest things. September 5 is a particularly rich musical birth date. Among others born on September 5 were Johann […]

Continue Reading